Sam Charles

Communications Manager

School of Engineering
Office: EME4242
Phone: 250.807.8136
Email: sam.charles@ubc.ca


Biography

Sam started at the Okanagan campus of the University of British in 2013 as a Senior Media Production Specialist with UBC Studios Okanagan.  After four years in that role, he transitioned into the Communications Manager role with the School of Engineering.

At the School of Engineering, he is responsible for developing strategic communication materials that highlight the innovative research and experiential learning on the Okanagan campus.  Sam is energized by telling the endlessly inspiring stories of the School’s researchers, students and staff.

With over twenty years of experience in communications, film, television and radio production, Sam is a seasoned professional communicator focused on generating dynamic and engaging content.

Sam has represented Canada three-times at Summer World University Games as Team Canada’s videographer documenting the Games for international audiences.  On Friday nights during the varsity season, he is the play-by-play voice (and technical advisor) for UBC Okanagan Heat basketball and volleyball webcasts on canadawest.tv.

Responsibilities

Integrated strategic communications including social media; Develop, design, and maintain communications content; Media relations; Issues Management; Develop and prepare faculty awards nominations

 

 

Congratulations to School of Engineering Professor Julian Cheng for being elevated to IEEE Fellow as of January 2023.

Dr. Cheng is being recognized for contributions to mathematical modelling of wireless systems and energy-efficient resource management of wireless networks.

An expert in digital communications and signal processing, Dr. Cheng was recognized with the UBC Okanagan Researcher of the Year Award in 2021. He is a global leader in optical and radio frequency (RF) wireless communication and optical technology research. He invented a new indoor optical wireless location technique that substantially improves receiver accuracy that will have significant applications in refined control of robot movement. His research has advanced multiple access techniques and beyond 5G wireless technologies and has applications in machine and deep learning, quantum communications and blockchain technology.

Each year, following a rigorous evaluation procedure, the IEEE Fellow Committee recommends a select group of recipients for elevation to IEEE Fellow. Less than 0.1% of voting members are selected annually for this member grade elevation.

New federal funding paves the way to an inter-disciplinary project that will assess the impact of travel behaviour changes and alternative strategies, such as work-from-home and mobility pricing.

A UBC interdisciplinary initiative is among 24 projects across from the country selected for Climate Action Awareness funding. The UBC project is led by Dr. Mahmudur Fatmi, who leads the UBC integrated Transportation Research (UiTR) laboratory.

“Data is an extremely valuable tool to help  develop effective plans, policies and infrastructure investment decision-making,” says Fatmi. “This project aims to collect transportation data from the public, use the data to build models, use the models to test emissions mitigation strategies, and finally go back to the public with the findings. The knowledge and evidence created through this research project will strengthen decision-makers’ capacity to effectively make climate emergent policies and investments.”

In collaboration with 14 industry partners, researchers from across UBC will analyze the similarities and differences in travel behaviours between a big urban region (i.e., Metro Vancouver) and smaller/medium-sized region (i.e., Central Okanagan) in BC. The project will also analyze the impact of travel on emissions from the transportation sector to the health care sector. The project is designed to address challenges induced by the COVID-19 pandemic such as changes in people’s travel behavior and their implications.

The project will adopt an integrated approach to model land use, newer vehicle technologies, in-home activities, travel and emissions, which will allow the researchers to look into the future with higher prediction accuracy.

Along with the federal government, the researchers have partnered with different levels of the government including municipal, regional, provincial and federal government, transit agencies, and Indigenous communities. They join a compliment of researchers from a variety of backgrounds including Canada Research Chair in Sustainability Naomi Zimmerman, Rehan Sadiq, Kasun Hewage, Jon Corbett, Khalad Hasan, and Andrea MacNeil.

“We are excited to have partners who share our commitment to address climate change,” says Fatmi. “Our findings will play a significant role in future policy decisions that will help governments in Canada and around the world meet their emission reduction targets.”

The UBC integrated Transportation Research (UiTR) laboratory awarded a $2.85-million grant by Environment Canada. The project includes 14 partners from different levels of government to investigate decarbonizing Canada’s transportation sector.

How does it feel to be returning to UBC Okanagan for your graduation ceremony?

To be completely honest, bittersweet. I can vividly remember the last day that I was on campus for regularly scheduled classes, and thinking that the pandemic wouldn’t be a big deal. While I’m appreciative of the virtual graduation I received last year, it’s still only natural to feel a sense of loss of experience; convocation was an incredibly important piece of the puzzle to me and my family. Two and a half years later, it doesn’t feel real that our in-person graduation is finally happening. I’m excited to close this chapter of my life formally – and in person!

What is the first thing you are going to do when you are back on campus?

I’m excited to see all the new developments on campus. Skeena and Nechako are two buildings developed past my stay, and it will be nice to see where the campus is now. I also plan on visiting folks that I worked with while in school, and the student teams I had the opportunity to be a part of. Most importantly, I plan to re-connect with friends and faculty.

What are some of your fondest memories from being at UBC Okanagan?

Create Orientation was easily one of my favourite times of the school year. I remember my first Create, being incredibly nervous to be a part of the faculty, let alone being away from home; and I remember being approached by senior engineering students at the time, being handed a bandana and given facepaint, and feeling encouraged to be proud of my faculty community. From then forward, I felt a sense of inclusion; and that’s what propelled me to do what I did in my undergrad. Even in future years, I did my best to share the same sense of joy I felt every year as an orientation leader and a faculty lead.

UBC Geering Up will also always have a special place in my heart. Being able to work with kids across BC to promote STEM was truly a unique experience, and I’ll never forget the times when I was able to see something click in a kid’s mind, and how they started to interact with the worlds of science and engineering. Looking back, if it hadn’t been for the pandemic, I wouldn’t have been able to start new initiatives which would have grown, and I wouldn’t have been able to meet a lot of the friends that I hold near and dear to me.

Beyond orientation and outreach, I also fondly remember having the opportunity to travel, representing the University across Canada and the United States in my work in student leadership. I had the unique opportunity to advocate for what mattered most to UBCO students regionally and nationally, and it’s because of initiatives like the Professional Activities Fund and groups like the Engineering Society that those opportunities became possible. Even to this day, every so often I’m reminded of the impact I was able to create when current students contact me for advice, or I see initiatives take flight which started during my time. It always brings a smile to my face.

How have your studies at UBC Okanagan prepared you for your journey after your Engineering degree completion?

My studies at UBC Okanagan prepared me both quantitatively and qualitatively. My role in the workforce relies on scholastic aptitude in engineering to contextualize the requirements and demands of what craft workers need to successfully execute a job. More than technical proficiency, my success in the role is propelled by qualitative skills in technical communication, craft engagement, and networking to achieve project success. I use many of the skills I learned on a regular basis, and UBCO’s design-based curricula allowed me to interface with engineering design software, drafting techniques, and real-world theory that I use on an ongoing basis – to the extent that I was able to easily transfer my skills to new platforms in the field. Many of the techniques that were discussed in Construction Management are used daily, and my ability to understand engineering theory allows me to assist our formal engineering teams by proposing solutions which are reasonable to the true field work being performed.

Describe what you have been up to since your degree completion?

Upon graduation, I started working as a Field Engineer-in-Training at the Whitla Wind Facility Phase 2/3 Project near Medicine Hat, AB – a project which is owned and operated by Capital Power Corporation. I spent six months helping to bring an additional 151 MW of renewable energy to Alberta’s grid. After finishing my role in the project, I transitioned into a role as an Energy Management Engineer-in-Training, where I translated these skills in the field into real-time 24/7 operations of all of Capital Power’s Coal, Thermal, and Renewable Assets across North America. I learned how to interpret the rules and regulations of different Independent System Operators and adapted to challenging circumstances requiring real-time operational support. Both experiences built different tools which I have been able to bring into my current role.

I now work as an Industrial Project Coordinator for PCL Construction – Heavy Industrial division. In this role, I directly oversee, facilitate, and assist in management of operations for large-scale industrial projects. On behalf of our field management teams, I submit inquiries to engineers and manage progress performance and reporting, perform quantity takeoffs to allocate budgets per specified project scope, and interpret engineering specifications to ensure the technical requirements of our operations are followed. In addition, I establish relationships with vendors and subcontractors to efficiently and effectively execute different exercises to reach project completion. Currently, I am stationed as the Structural Project Coordinator for the Cascade Power Project near Edson, AB – a 900 MW Combined Cycle Facility, owned by Kineticor, which is being constructed by a joint venture partnership between PCL Industrial Management Inc. and Overland Contracting Canada Inc. (Black & Veatch).

I haven’t let my passions for inclusivity and leadership fall by the wayside, though; as a part of my role with PCL, I’ve taken the opportunity to be a part of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee for all of PCL Canadian – Industrial Operations. I hope that as I grow in the professional workforce, I can use the critical discussions I had in my time at UBC Okanagan to create a direct and genuine impact on the engineering and construction industry; and help build it to become a more inclusive workforce for everyone.

What does the future hold for you?

My short time in the workforce has shown me how much I’ve learned in just a few years time after graduating – but it’s also shown me how much more I want to explore to become a seasoned professional. My hope is to work towards becoming a Project Engineer, or Project Manager – and eventually, to enter the world of business development. I’ve learned that my aptitude in engineering best serves me when I can contribute to innovative new ideas, and it would be incredible to use the skills I have to bring more work fronts and sustainable scopes to our team. To help build that expertise, I’ve begun part-time studies in a Master of Business Administration at Thompson Rivers University, alongside my professional work. I’m hoping that the real-world experience I gain, coupled with education in engineering and business practice, will position me to be a strong advocate and leader in the future.

If you could share a message to your fellow graduating class, what would it be?

Being a part of the Class of 2020 and 2021 means that there is something very special that is ingrained in our experiences – and while I’m sure we’ve all heard the terms, “unprecedented circumstances,” and “challenging times,” written in an email or two, there is one characteristic that we all had to learn as a result – and that would be resilience. Over the past few years, we have had to adapt to, and witness, incredibly challenging situations; social isolation, worldwide quarantine, and international warfare, to say the least. There are many social issues that have and will continue to shape the world we live in. As UBC engineers, it’s our duty to remember the influence that we hold on to the world, however big or small, and to use our skills to create meaningful actions.

We are the newest generation of engineers and leaders; our degree arms us with the knowledge and aptitude to execute our work correctly and efficiently – but ultimately, it is up to us to do good in the world, past the confines of the university. For many of us, we are already being the changemakers in the communities we are a part of – and making impacts around the globe. We can change our world in many ways, by creating new technologies, bringing energy to our communities, creating new places to live and work, and everything in between. Never forget who you are, the people who brought you to be who you are, and the stories you’ve been able to live. Our experiences will guide us, and while there is no way to prove in certainty where the future will take us, we can choose to be stewards of a hopeful community.

How does it feel to be returning to UBC Okanagan for your graduation ceremony? 

It feels interesting to say the least, especially in the sense that I have not been back to campus since we abruptly left in March 2020. It was a hectic period, and I never felt that I had ample time to say goodbye to the place that I called home for the previous 4 years. In receiving the news of our graduation ceremony being renewed for this upcoming season, there are a lot of emotions: I’m excited to see how the campus has changed since I was last there, thrilled to see everyone that I used to talk to everyday, and inspired to see how I have changed as an individual since I first started as a student in 2016.

What is the first thing you are going to do when you are back on campus?

Have a milkshake at The Well! Hear me out… my first year was a time where my diet consisted of milkshakes, pizza, and grilled cheese (the key ingredients to the student lifestyle, of course). As such, I’m planning on one of my first acts to be going back to the UNC building to re-establish one of the traditions of late night studying. It’s exciting to think of how much we have grown since our first SolidWorks project, and rekindling our early onset routines will only bring back that nostalgia. With that, I’m excited to roam the halls and walkways of our campus to see what has changed and what is still familiar. While fixtures such as the water fountain in the Science building, the E, and the library study rooms are likely to be the same, UBCO is forever changing and I’m excited to see how much it has grown!

What are some of your fondest memories from being at UBC Okanagan?

UBCO was a place that not only allowed me to grow as an individual, but also allowed me to connect with people with similar aspirations and goals. As such, it’s difficult to pinpoint my fondest memories as my whole time at UBCO made me who I am today. It was not only the academic side – sharing jokes while writing reports until late at night with my group, competing in debate/re-engineering competitions, the feeling of when I finally understood my Vibrations course – but also the times in between. There was the embarrassment from when we burst into ongoing lecture halls for holiday carolling, the capture-the-flag competition between rival residence buildings (Go Nicola!), and activities even as small as being late to a class and running up the staircase in the Arts building completely out of breath with friends. UBCO was not just the academic or professional successes, but the small actions in the middle. What makes this school so great is the people in it, and the dedication they have to push the boundaries of engineering and support they give to their peers.

How have your studies at UBC Okanagan prepared you for your journey after your Engineering degree completion?

My experience at UBCO is what made me the engineer that I am today. When I first came to campus as a high school student, the faculty presented the inspirational message that  “Tuum Est”: it is yours. What this was intended to mean is that the future is up to you to decide, but what I took this to mean is that I am the catalyst to the future that I want to be a part of; that my future is solidified by the decisions that I make today. UBCO was the only school that inspired me to step outside of my comfort zone and become the best version of myself.

During my time as a student, I took leadership roles in clubs and course unions, such as Engineers Without Borders and the Engineering Society at UBC, to help become a student advocate to advance the portfolios of creating meaningful change in my immediate surroundings. Further, I took part in the UBC’s Coordinated International Exchange program to study abroad at one of Europe’s leading engineering institutions, the Technical University of Denmark, to understand, learn from, and contrast how successful national renewable energy infrastructures are built sustainably. In applying these teachings, UBC Engineering’s Co-op program allowed me to be a part of the clean energy revolution as well as contribute to meaningful electricity generation and efficient energy use.

It was UBCO that allowed me the opportunity to foster these leadership qualities at home, and provided me the tools to apply them outside of campus.

Describe what you have been up to since your degree completion?

During my degree, my focus was centered around renewable energy and building sustainable infrastructure into our developing society. It was my goal to harness learnings from UBCO and apply them towards building a cleaner future. During my time within the UBC Engineering Co-op program, I started towards this journey working in energy management, and upon graduating, I returned to work at an organization which I started at as a co-op student. Drax Group is a multi-national renewable energy company focused on renewable power generation, sustainable biomass production, and the sale of renewable energies to businesses, all while having the ambition to be carbon negative by 2030. In the time when the effects of the climate crisis are becoming more and more prevalent, my goals are aligned with this mission to help build society towards a cleaner and more developed future. I am currently a Process Specialist who is focused on industrial process optimization, implementation of efficiency measures/projects, as well as management of the energy/utilities portfolio for our sustainable biomass production facilities across Canada.

What does the future hold for you?

It is us – as engineers – to adapt to new societal demands, and do our utmost to serve and protect the interests of the public with due diligence, respect, and integrity. This is especially relevant today where the future is completely unpredictable and can be upended with a moment’s notice. While the future is uncertain, I’m hoping to continue my mission to drive meaningful change within our infrastructure, and contribute to the movement that will see positive impacts that align with international climate goals. The future of my role within Drax is to continue to accelerate this mission, and foster sustainable energy infrastructure development. I thoroughly enjoy my work, and hope to grow with the company to achieve these objectives.

On the side, I have been studying towards my P.Eng., exploring my new home in Vancouver (bubble tea obsessions are absolutely real), and planning some international holiday travels. For this upcoming winter, I have been planning an expedition to Antarctica so that I can be a part of the unknown, and explore this completely new environment.

If you could share a message to your fellow graduating class, what would it be?

As graduates of 2020 and 2021, we are one of the most resilient groups of engineers who have completed university to date. As a result, we have had to navigate the transition of a “normal” society to one that is completely remote, become increasingly adaptable to meet new and emerging market trends, as well as become fully proficient in remembering to turn ourselves off mute when we are talking on a Zoom call (well… maybe most of the time). This has been a time of no other – no precedent to study off of, no manual to read from – for how to transition from being a student to part of the workforce. Because of that, we have had to rely on what we learned during our time as engineering students as well as what we learned about ourselves preparing for our degree. We each work to the best of our abilities and uniquely contribute to society and its advancement. We are all learning how to navigate this new environment, however, it is the perseverance, dedication and enthusiasm that we held initially as students that will propel us to be successful as young professionals. It is our drive, our passions, our personal missions that will allow us to be the best versions of ourselves and I’m excited to see the future that we all create together. Continue to stay strong during hard times, strive to make your mark within your communities, and be the change makers that society needs us to be.

 

How does it feel to be returning to UBC Okanagan for your graduation ceremony? 

I am excited to be returning to UBCO! The people that I met on campus and the experiences we shared are irreplaceable. I have mixed feelings about my time in University with its thrilling highs and sickening lows, but I am decided that the people – staff, faculty and students – made it worthwhile.

What is the first thing you are going to do when you are back on campus? 

Walk around the EME! I got to know the engineering side of the building well between my studies and undergraduate research. I especially look forward to finding some familiar faces on the 3rd and 4th floor.

What are some of your fondest memories from being at UBC Okanagan? 

Hunting down an available white board to hash out course concepts among classmates; those aha! moments dimly perceived through a professor’s sketch; the nervous energy of my colleagues, all buzzing about an exam we had just written; playing volleyball with my lab group during the summer months; milling in the machine shop; breathlessly sliding into the #8 bus moments before its doors closed; and yes, falling in love.

How have your studies at UBC Okanagan prepared you for your journey after your Engineering degree completion? 

While I have yet to apply much of what I studied at UBCO, I have made frequent use of the connections and resources that I made and found there. Whether it be consulting with colleagues about job searching, getting professional support from faculty members, discussing ideas with classmates, or even just catching up with friends made on campus, I feel supported at this early stage of my engineering journey.

Describe what you have been up to since your degree completion? 

Since I finished my degree, a lot of exciting things have happened! I got married, went on a 5-week long road trip through a foreign country, applied for graduate school in an industry-led project, lost that opportunity when the industry partner cancelled the project, and worked a couple of jobs as a technician. Then, my wife and I bought a gutted motorhome in hopes of realizing our dream of living in a small space, and we have been renovating it ever since. Also, I just became the proud dad of a beautiful baby girl!

What does the future hold for you? 

Throughout whatever surprises the future holds, I hope to apply my capacities inventing and designing solutions that meet a need.

Aside from that, a fully renovated motorhome.

If you could share a message to your fellow graduating class, what would it be? 

As a mature student, this program pushed me to my limit, so I was humbled to witness the courage and resilience of my younger colleagues during my degree. I would like to congratulate them on their remarkable achievement! I would also like to specifically mention the heroic effort of the graduates who studied in a new language, a new culture. Your perseverance and hard work continue to inspire me. Finally, to all of my fellow graduates: I honour your accomplishment, I embrace you as a colleague, and I look forward to congratulating you in person when we meet.

Upcoming Workshop at UBC Okanagan seeks to address some key strategies and solutions for property owners to reduce their risk.

In partnership with SCIUS Advisory and CoreTwo, Green Construction Research & Training Centre (GCRTC) at UBC Okanagan is hosting “Planning for the Future: Managing Real Estate Climate Risks” on November 8 from 1pm – 4pm.

The workshop will include experts in the areas of civil engineering, resiliency, urban planning, construction, and health.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of extreme climate events across the globe and here in our own backyard,” says Shahria Alam, a professor of civil engineering and the Principal’s Research Chair in Resilient and Green Infrastructure. “It’s why an event like this is so timely.

Presenters include researchers from UBC along with representatives from Interior Health, Kelowna International Airport, Streetside Developments, CoreTwo and SCIUS Advisory. They will discuss successfully managing transition risks associated with decarbonizing their portfolio and new business opportunities that can be created through being proactive in addressing these risks.

Topics will include

  • assessing carbon and energy performance of buildings and portfolios;
  • benchmarking against Canada’s established emission reduction pathways to 2050;
  • planning and prioritizing retrofit investments; and
  • deriving indicators for risk management, reporting, disclosure.

Learn more and register for the event at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/planning-for-the-future-managing-real-estate-climate-risks-tickets-396241257267

New funding from UBC’s Indigenous Strategic Initiatives Fund (ISI Fund) will enable relationship building with the Syilx Okanagan People in support of establishing an Indigenous-inspired natural space for teaching and learning

The Indigenous Micro-Forest project will endeavour to establish a self-sustainable, green, biodiverse ecosystem on UBC Okanagan campus, guided by Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge to reintroduce and foster native species that create green spaces and offer ways to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The permacultural initiative will provide students, faculty, staff, and the community a beautiful space for learning and reflection.

The proposal was co-submitted by Associate Professor Jeanette Armstrong and Assistant Professor of Teaching Alon Eisenstein along with faculty from the School of Engineering, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and the Faculty of Science. The ISI Fund seeks to advance the rights of Indigenous peoples as well as the crucial journey towards meaningful reconciliation.

“Indigenous Peoples have a special relationship with the land, and this initiative is a way of acknowledging and elevating that through the application of Indigenous traditional knowledge,” explains Alon Eisenstein, an assistant professor of teaching at the School of Engineering and one of the project team’s members.

The UBC Okanagan Indigenous Micro-Forest will support a climate-friendly culture shift through transitioning the narrative of climate action from climate harm mitigation to proactive climate stewardship. “By fostering a sense of long-term responsibility, the forest demonstrates UBC’s commitment to future generations by investing in the campus and the region’s ecosystem while promoting biodiversity and developing a strong legacy that will support nature and life,” says  Renee Leboe, manager of Engineering Academic Services. “Our students especially will benefit from having a space such as this on our campus.”

At the root of the proposal’s success is a strong and diverse team with existing relationship and collaboration with the Syilx Peoples, UBC faculty, staff, and students. Indigenous voices and perspectives will lead the project with members of the Syilx community co-creating the design and the project throughout its stages. The Forest also recognizes the integral connection of UBC with Indigenous partners, and the land with which it resides.

The Micro-Forest will be larger than several full-sized basketball courts and, while campus planning and the project team are still working out the location, it will be located near the EME Building. Planning is expected to take place over the next year as the project team collaborates with the En’owkin Centre, Knowledge Keepers and the community. The Micro-Forest will include native plants to the Okanagan, which will be selected together with the Knowledge Keepers following traditional ecological knowledge. The site preparation and planting will take between 2-5 years to ensure the project and the ecosystem are developed in a sustainable manner.

The Indigenous Micro-Forest will serve as a cultural focal point for learning about Indigenous culture and language, making them visible and prominent on the UBC Okanagan campus. In the long term, the project will contribute to the overall sustainability of the UBC Okanagan campus by proactively creating a biodiverse urban ecosystem that benefits the environmental and social aspects of campus living.

UBC’s newest student organization seeks to build and strengthen a community

It had to content with launching through the pandemic, but the UBC Okanagan chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) is thriving. The success to date can, in part, be attributed to representation from members of the School of Engineering. Students, staff, and faculty have worked tirelessly to develop the local chapter that strives to increase the representation of Indigenous peoples in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) studies and careers.

For engineering MASc student, Christopher Paul, the AISES was one of the reasons he decided to pursue a graduate degree at UBC Okanagan. “During my undergraduate degree, I was fortunate to be participate in a number of programs facilitate by the Indigenous Centre and UBC including the Indigenous Undergraduate Mentorship Program (IUM), an NSERC Undergraduate Research  Award, and it was during my IMU when I attended an AISES conference that I really felt a connection with some like-minded people.”

Paul smiles as he recalls that first conference in Saskatoon during the spring of 2020. “It may sound cliché, but the people I met there provided me with a sense of community. I got this feeling that I belonged.”

It was a similar feeling that brought many of the founding members of the UBC Okanagan Chapter of AISES together. Each sought to share ideas and build a welcoming community.

“It isn’t always easy when you enter an institution or walk into a lab, and don’t immediately feel a sense of connectedness,” explains Joel Liman, an Indigenous Student Advisor at the School of Engineering and staff chapter advisor. “AISES provides a platform for students to come together and share their experiences and ideas with peers and prospective students.”

By not being tied to one faculty, AISES is open to students from across the Okanagan campus. Representation includes students from every faculty, all of whom are working towards building a community and spaces that are welcoming and build on the organization’s core goal of representation of Indigenous peoples in STEM fields.

Recently, Paul attended an AISES conference in Portland, and came away with a renewed motivations to continue to build and grow the local chapter. “The foundation of this organization is to inspire others through sharing and collaborating,” explains Paul. “We’re hoping that AISES will serve as a welcoming community for Indigenous students at UBC Okanagan but also more broadly a welcoming community for all.”

 

Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA) Recipient looks to tackle climate change

Many people are satisfied to complete their undergraduate degree, and jump into the workforce, but that wasn’t the case for Jason Schultz. The second-year Mechanical Engineering student initially completed a BSc (majoring in Computer Science and a minor in Physics) at the University of Alberta before arriving at UBC Okanagan to undertake an engineering degree. “I was drawn to engineering because I really want to be part of the solution in tackling climate change,” explains Schultz.

This summer, Schultz is one of a handful of students chosen to pursue a USRA. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) program is meant to encourage undergraduate students to undertake graduate studies in natural science and engineering fields by providing research work experience that complements their studies in an academic setting.

For Schultz, that means joining Dr. Alexander R. Uhl’s Laboratory for Solar Energy and Fuels (LSEF) Research. Dr. Uhl is an assistant professor and Principal’s Research Chair in Solar Energy Conversion who develops innovative solar energy conversion tools and processes that incorporate photovoltaics, solar fuels, and thin film semiconductors.

Along with Uhl, Schultz is participating in research that looks to improve perovskite solar cell stability through environmental encapsulation and real-time performance monitoring. Perovskite solar cells are ultra-thin solar photovoltiac devices that are inexpensive to manufacture and highly efficient. Between designing and building a stress testing chamber and implementing measures for improving the stability of the solar cells, Schultz is playing an important role in lab.

According to Dr. Uhl, students like Schultz are crucial to his group’s success. “We are very fortunate that our team is made up of many students like Jason who are passionate about changing the world for the better,” says Uhl. “In our lab, we are not only building innovative solar cells and components, but we are also rigorously testing them which takes time and determination, so that sort of passion goes a long way.”

“This experience will help pave the way in possible future co-op positions in the broad clean energy industry, such as a company I have already scouted out that deals with nuclear fusion,” explains Schultz. He sees the USRA as an opportunity to gain valuable insight into the photovoltaic industry and hopefully continue the journey into a Masters or a career.

“Right now I am more focused on the opportunities in the short term that enable me to start making a contribution towards addressing climate change.”

For more information about NSERC USRA opportunities, connect with a School of Engineering Academic Services Advisor.

 

Diana Youssefian is a civil engineering graduate of the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus School of Engineering.

What was your experience studying Engineering at UBCO?

Aside from attending a world-renowned university alongside my sister, UBC Okanagan is a close-knit community that I really enjoyed being a part of. It was easy to meet new people in and out of my program of study and seeing familiar faces everyday made my experience a rich one.

At UBCO, I chose to study civil engineering because I wanted to gain a strong  foundation in structural analysis and design. My goal now is to utilize that  knowledge in my pursuit of an architectural background. I believe my undergraduate experiences will enrich my next journey of becoming an architect.

What is it like to go to school with your sibling?

Going to school with my sister taught me many things. I learned that I should only be competitive with myself. Kiana has been a great source of support and inspiration for me because of her mentorship and excellent accomplishments. She motivated me to work harder and get involved in extracurricular activities which turned out to be one of the highlights of my university experience. We were by each other’s side for the struggles, obstacles, and achievements. It was motivating and rewarding to watch each other grow and I am very grateful for that.

Did you get involved in research? What was the research (who was the supervisor)? How was that experience?

I got involved in two very different research projects. Under Dr. Sepideh Pakpour’s supervision, I studied the effect of fungal deterioration on the physical properties of hempcrete. I learned about new sustainable building material that can be used to prevent mold to form in humid areas such as Vancouver. This project introduced me to an alternative building material that is more environmentally-friendly than conventional concrete.

During my research experience with Dr. Dr. Mahmudur Fatmi, I had the opportunity to learn new software including Vissim and ArcGIS. Using those software, I modelled a network of roads and intersections to study the contributing factors to transit delay in Kelowna. I also investigated implementing e-scooters as a sustainable mode of transportation in Kelowna. This research experience exposed me to new topics and helped me diversify my software skills.

What have been some of your favourite extra-curricular experiences?

In my first year, I joined the Concrete Toboggan Club to hone my design skills and meet new people. The next year, I became one of the team leaders. This was an opportunity for me to get out of my comfort-zone and develop my teamwork and leadership skills. During this experience,  led the team in designing the assembly of the crate to be displayed at the Technical Exhibition of the Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race in Toronto. It was very satisfying to see the result of our team’s collaborative efforts and hard work. This experience allowed me to cultivate and express my artistic side while discovering my leadership strengths and weaknesses.

What have been your favourite courses and instructors?

My two favourite courses at UBC Okanagan were ENGR 410 Engineering Leadership and ENGR 542 Engineering and Society instructed by Dr. Alon Eisenstein. During university, I realized how essential it is to learn about leadership and understand our oath and responsibility, as engineers, to society.

On one hand, the course Engineering Leadership changed my perspective of leadership and what it means to lead a team. After taking this course, I practiced my new leadership style as team leader of my Capstone Project. During this experience, I witnessed how significantly my leadership approach can impact the performance of the team and outcome of the project. On the other hand, the course Engineering and Society allowed me to reflect on and question how our decisions and designs can impact society and the environment. The lessons I learned in both courses will stick with me for life.

What’s next?

My next step will be to begin pursuing education in architecture. However, I plan to work in the industry prior and I am excited to start the next step of my journey. Architecture and engineering have always been passions of mine. I particularly remember the sense of wonder I felt when visiting historical areas in Iran during my childhood. I was astonished at the choice of building materials and durability of ancient villages. While at UBCO, I learned about important topics including engineering design, sustainability and effective leadership. I aim to implement them to help design a better future for our society and environment.